When Giuseppe Cipriani created the Bellini — a seemingly simple combination of peach purée and Prosecco — he likely had no idea that he would change the concept of “brunch.” forever.
Yet, this classic sparkling-based cocktail is at home at any time of day and, especially in the heat of summer. The ripe peach, beautifully in season, plays off the zip of the Prosecco and captures a fleeting moment of perfection. At Toscana restaurant and bar, William Perbellini (a fortuitous name, but no relation) hopes to capture that perfection and reinvent it with his modern twists on this elegant sipper.
Perbellini notes, “The Bellini is a seasonal cocktail that has endured for many years because of its captivating color, engaging flavor and fascinating history. It is particularly enjoyable by the pool on summer afternoons or as an aperitif before dinner.”
The history to which Perbellini makes reference is romantic in a way that only Italian stories can. In the early 1940s, Cipriani found himself inspired by a painting from 15th century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini. As the story goes, Cipriani, who was enamored of the white peaches that grew in abundance across Italy in the summer, created a drink using these same peaches and named it because of luminous peach glow of a toga in one of Bellini’s paintings.
In 1958, the drink found a permanent home at the eponymous Hotel Cipriani owned by Giuseppe. Since then, the Bellini has captured the collective imagination as the ultimate brunch drink. Perbellini was fortunate enough to work at the Cipriani for several years before he made his way to the U.S. As he recalls, “The team was amazing and we had great energy between us all. I remember the young group following the example of the veterans that had been working there for many years before us. My mentor was Walter Bolzonella, who remains the head bartender of Gabbiano and Fortuny bars inside the hotel, and my team partner was Facundo Gallegos, who is now the senior bartender at The Dorchester Bar, one of the most prestigious bars in London.”
Of course, Perbellini learned to make a Bellini — and how to make it correctly. “When I was at the Cipriani, I used to peel between four to five cases of white peaches every morning during summertime,” he explains. “I learned that the white peach has to be at the right maturation, and the pit inside releases a bitter taste if you don’t remove it quickly.”
Here are Perbellini’s three tips for making the best Bellini:
- Use mature, organic, white peaches.
- Purée with a bit of sugar and some crushed ice. Chill immediately.
- When making the drink, mix the purée and Prosecco in a mixing glass. This will “obtain a nice foam and consistent hat on top of the Champagne glass. It’s also a good way to control the foam and the temperature of the drink,” according to Perbellini.
Following are Perbellini’s classic version of the cocktail, as well as his current variations on the basic theme. While Prosecco is the traditional sparkler for the Bellini, Franciacorta, which shows up in several of Perbellini’s variations, is an equally lovely style, also made in Italy.
Perbellini’s Classic Bellini
- 2 oz. Fresh White Peach Purée
- 6 oz. Chilled Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
- Fresh Raspberry, for Garnish
Preparation: Place the purée in a mixing glass, then add the Prosecco. Stir and pour into a chilled champagne glass, garnish with a fresh raspberry and serve.
Inspired by the cocktail “Rossini” which was named after the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini.
- 2 oz. Freshly Puréed Strawberries
- 6 oz. Franciacorta Brut
- 1/2 oz. Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Liqueur
- Fresh strawberry and/or Edible Flower, for Garnish
Preparation: Pour the purée into a mixing glass with the cherry liqueur and some ice cubes. Add the chilled sparkling wine. Stir to chill and mingle the ingredients together. Strain into a Champagne glass or chalice and garnish with a fresh strawberry and an edible flower.
Inspired by the cocktail “Casanova” which was named after the 18th century Italian author Giacomo Casanova. This is a more ‘masculine’ version of a Bellini.
- 1 oz. Freshly Puréed Raspberries
- 6 oz Franciacorta Brut
- 1/2 oz. Bitter Campari
- 1/2 oz. Briottet Crème de Framboise Liqueur
- Lemon Peel and Raspberry, for Garnish
Preparation: Pour the purée into a mixing glass with Campari, Briottet raspberry liqueur and some ice cubes. Then add the chilled sparkling wine. Stir to blend, then strain into a chilled white wine glass and garnish with a lemon peel and float a fresh raspberry on top.
Inspired by the cocktail “Tintoretto” which was named after the Renaissance Italian painter Tintoretto.
- 2 oz. Fresh Pomegranate Juice
- 6 oz. Franciacorta Brut
- 1/4 oz. Raspberry and Peach-Infused Grand Marnier
- Fresh Peach Slice, Raspberry, Dehydrated Orange Wheel, for Garnish
Preparation: Pour the pomegranate juice into a mixing glass with the Grand Marnier liqueur and some ice cubes. Add the chilled sparkling wine. Stir to chill and combine the ingredients together, then strain into a Champagne glass or cup and garnish with a slice of fresh peach, a raspberry, and a dehydrated blood orange wheel.